Appeal Court sitting in Enugu State on Friday, upheld the judgement of Ebonyi State High Court, Abakaliki, which dismissed a suit challenging the defection of Governor David Umahi and his deputy, Dr Kelechi Igwe, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress, (APC)
Governor Umahi and his Deputy had on November 2020 decamped from the PDP, a platform they were elected, to the APC, citing injustice by the PDP against the South East zone.
The suit which was filed by Senator Sunny Ogbuoji and his running mate, Mr Justin Mbam Ogodo, the governorship flag bearers of the APC in 2019 in Ebonyi State, had through originating summons asked the Court to determine whether the defendant, Governor Umahi, and his deputy, have not vacated their offices or deemed to have vacated their offices, having defected to the APC from the PDP.
The plaintiffs asked the Court to order INEC to swear them, being that they became second runner-up in the 2019 general election.
But Justice Henry Njoku of the Ebonyi State High Court, in his ruling dismissed the suit for lacking in merit and awarded five hundred thousand naira against the plaintiffs.
Njoku ruled that having regard to section 188 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the defendants, Governor Umahi and Deputy, had not offended any provision of the Constitution or the Electoral Act in defecting to the APC.
The High Court further held that having regard to section 308 of the Constitution, it was even wrong to institute criminal or civil proceedings against the office of the Governor or Deputy Governor.
The plaintiffs, Mr Suny Ogbuoji and his running mate,Justin Mbam Ogodo, were dissatisfied with the judgement, and had on 7th March 2022, filed an appeal at Enugu judicial division of the Appeal Court.
Delivering judgement on the appeal, on Friday, a three-man panel in their unanimous judgement, affirmed the ruling of the Abakaliki High Court, that Governor Umahi and his deputy did not offend any provision of the constitution or the Electoral Act in defecting to the APC from the PDP.
The judgement was read by Justice J O K Oyowole.
According to the Justices, there is no consequence under the law against the defection of a holder of the office of the President, Vice President, Governor or Deputy Governor, to another political Party from the party that sponsored the election that brought him or her to office.
The Justices further held that, the defection of a political office holder might appear immoral, but it was not the duty of the Court to embark on investigation or probe into the provisions of the laws, warning that judicial activism must not be turned into judicial rascality.
The Appellate Court said there is no provision in sections 180, 188 or 189 of the 1999 constitution as amended, that empowers the Court to remove either a seating governor or the deputy, saying, the issue of defection of an office holder is not novel to Nigeria’s judicial jurisprudence
The Court dismissed the appeal and awarded two hundred thousand (#200,000) naira against the appellants.
The Counsel to the Defendants, Barrister Roy O. U Nweze, applauded the judgement, saying, “it will be a reference point all over the country”.
Barr. Nweze said the Appeal Court has substantially rendered nugatory, the Abuja Federal High Court judgement by Justice Inyang Ekwo, which sacked Governor Umahi and his deputy on March 8, 2022.
Counsel to the Appellants, Ogbonnaya Okorie, appreciated the industry of the court and disclosed that he would study the judgement and advice his clients on the way forward.
In his reaction, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Barrister Uchenna Orji, said the judgement was a demonstration of the capacity of the appellant’s Court to protect the rule of law and the principles of separation of powers.